Visual Prompts for students with poor Working Memory

‘Working Memory provides temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks as language comprehension, learning, and reasoning’ Baddeley 1992.

A strategy used to help students with poor working memory is visual prompts. This could be a number line for maths work, a list of key words for a subject based essay or a card describing basic grammar.

The visual prompts below were created with a student studying ‘The Tempest’.  A quick discussion showed he remembered the ‘stinking fish’ scene, which had made him laugh from a video clip, but little else.


We ran through the basics and created these diagrams. They are nothing special but help to trigger his memory. Every time we met while he was studying ‘The Tempest’ we would quickly go over characters, scenes and themes using the visual prompts.
The diagrams are unlikely to help anyone else; the process and subsequent use was for the individual not for an audience.  They don’t need to look good merely trigger details of the subject the student is studying.


The question above, ‘Why couldn’t Prospero stop the storm? shows little understanding of the play. We unpicked this until the student realised that the question would have been better as ‘why did Prospero cause the storm?’ and the student was able to see the motivation behind Prospero’s Tempest.  Below helped the student to visualise the characters landing on different areas of the island.


A few moments drawing out diagrams and revisiting regularly may help those with a limited working memory capacity to remember details more easily. Many teachers give small, regular tests to students so they remember and retrieve facts – for those who require a little more, why not allow them memory aids to assist them and level that playing field?


More Tips for students with poor working memory

  • Keep student’s table clear to avoid distractions
  • Sit student at front of class keeping them as free from distractions as possible 
  • Give short, clear instructions
  • Ask student to repeat back what they are expected to do
  • Allow short breaks, physical or otherwise – the type of student who yawns excessively may find learning very challenging and reach capacity quicker than others
  • When asking questions, by beginning the answer for a student can take away the fear and help trigger a response – King Lear’s daughters were….the nice one Cordelia, the one who gouged the eyes out was……’ Alternatively, students may be poor at remembering names: Was it Cordelia or Regan who gouged the eyes out?

More information on Working Memory
Packiam-Alloway argues working memory is a better predictor of school performance than IQ.

Baddeley 1992 – definition used in blog for Working Memory

Baddeley working memory model.


This is the link for the ‘Centre for Working Memory and Learning’ in York if you’re interested to learn more.


  1. That’s great. And yet all the controversy over learning styles. To me this points to the need to integrate visual tools and methods to help teach and aid recall.

    • You’re absolutely right @cazzwebbo.

      The learning styles ‘thang’ gets confused with strategies to assist learners with specific learning difficulties doesn’t it? It’s like visual timetables and social stories for those on the spectrum. Partly the reason I wanted to write a series of blogs on visual strategies.

      • Awesome. So pleased you are! It’s well needed to redress the balance and reclaim the conversation

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